Today, I received a copy of an advisory which the staff of P&O's Britannia distributed to passengers aboard the cruise ship, prior to disembarking in Bruges, advising them of the existence of a possible threat associated with "extremist activity in Belgium."
The advisory of today's date, from the master of the cruise ship, says in pertinent part:
"As your safety and security is always of prime concern to us on-board Britannia, I would like to advise you of the existence of a possible threat associated with extremist activity in Belgium. While it is not our wish to concern you, due to recent events, it would be similarly irresponsible of us not to make you aware of localised security concerns.
We would like to remind you to remain vigilant in all public areas, avoid demonstrations and report anything suspicious to the local authorities.
If you are planning to travel to Brussels independently, we would recommend that you are particularly alert in places where there is a high concentration of people."
"There is a high threat from terrorism and the Belgians assess this to be a serious and real threat (level 3). Police operations are ongoing and there have been a number of police raids and arrests, including on 17 June 2016, relating to past and potential terrorist attacks.
There have been a number of high profile terrorist attacks across Belgium. On 6 August 2016, 2 police officers were attacked with a machete in the city of Charleroi. On 22 March 2016 co-ordinated terrorist attacks killed 32 and injured hundreds more at Brussels Zavantem airport and on the metro system."
The UK advisory is similar to the U.S. travel statement which states that another terrorist attack is "probable."
This Britannia advisory seems like a prudent warning in this day and age. The Britannia is now sailing back to Southampton after a day in Bruges.
The widely reported drug bust of three passengers this week on the Sea Princess cruise ship in Australia uncovered serious shortcomings in Princess Cruises' shipboard security.
We have written about dozens of drug busts of relatively small quantities of cocaine on cruise ships over the years. But 95 kilos (over 209 lbs.!) of cocaine seems to be hard to believe. Many people have expressed their opinions that this must have been an inside job (we have no proof of this), given the use of screening equipment on cruise ships. But some people have questioned whether the drugs were loaded onto the ship along with food and provisions and then transferred to the passengers to be smuggled off the ship in their luggage.
If the shipboard security team wasn't involved, they obviously need to enforce far better protocols to carefully screen baggage and items brought onboard the ship.
IHS Fairplay published an article today saying that the drug bust "highlights the ability for more sinister items to be smuggled onto vessels." In an article titled Drugs Find Highlights Cruise Security Threat, Fairplay says that "cruise companies were taking, and continue to take, security seriously but that the incident had to act as a wake-up call to revisit current systems." It quoted Gerry Northwood, a principal of the international maritime security company MAST, explaining that cruise passengers don't face the same restrictions as air travelers.
Northwood also warns that "If a terrorist were to secrete an explosive device inside a consignment of food, it is possible that the explosion would likely happen below the water line with obvious implications for the vessel and the safety of the passengers and crew.”
Commander Mark Gaouette, the former security head of Cunard and Princess Cruises, said in an interview today that the cruise industry should be concerned with the possibility of a terrorist group masterminding a gigantic conflagration on a ship. He cites the 2004 attack by an Islamic terrorist group which planted just eight kilograms of TNT in a cardboard box aboard the Superferry 14 in the Philippines. The resulting fire and explosion killed over a hundred passengers and sank the ferry.
Commander Gaouette is the author of Cruising for Trouble, Cruise Ships As Soft Targets for Pirates, Terrorists and Common Criminals.
Are cruise ships prepared for the threat of terrorism?
As I have contended for a long time, in my opinion no.
Cruise lines are still calling on dangerous ports. They are still sending passengers on unescorted shore excursions in buses without armed security personnel. Cruise ships can't prevent terrorists from overpowering their unarmed security guards on most cruise ships and running up the gangways. (Some European cruise lines, like Costa, have weapons).
Few lines are conducting anti-terrorist drills. The rare anti-terrorism training drill conducted by local and federal agencies are not even conducted on cruise ships. Few lines have installed automatic man overboard alarms which have the capability to also detect when unauthorized people come over the rails onto the ship. And what can a cruise line do once terrorists gets onto the ship? Security guards are barely able to even break up bar fights.
I received an interesting comment the other day from a reader who said that cruise ships should use muster drills to educate passengers what do to if there is a terrorist attack during a cruise. What is the protocol for a passenger if terrorists enter the ship? Go to your cabins, hunker down and hope for the best? Try and overwhelm the attackers? Try and escape via lifeboats? Who knows?
Yesterday, a number of newspapers from the U.K. and France reported on a drill which involved a ferry from England to France where armed military personnel boarded the ferry via speedboats and a helicopter.
The Mirror explained that "fears have arisen over the threat of armed militants launching an attack on a ferry and executing passengers or detonating a suicide bomb."
These type of security drills are important. But they seem to underscore that few cruise ships are making an effort to conduct such exercises, seemingly to avoid frightening the guests.
I have reported many times about the warnings from senior military leaders in the U.S. and Europe regarding the threat against the cruise industry posed by ISIS. Just last month, the Miami-Dade County Police Department said: “We ended up concluding that now they’re targeting the cruise industry. We’re the cruise capital of the world. It’s the same possibility of having two planes crash into the World Trade Center.”
Several media sources in Europe are saying that armed sea marshals are planned for ferries, at least heading to and from France. It's time for U.S. based cruise lines to employ armed guards on their cruise ships.
Newspapers in Europe are reporting that seventy-seven passengers and crew members were evacuated from a ferry and pier at the port of Joliette, in Marseilles, France after "after loud noises were heard below deck.'
The ferry was identified as the Jean Nicoli which was scheduled to leave for Sardinia this morning.
Mail Online says that France deployed "heavily armed soldiers and police to its ports in fear of ISIS jihadis boarding ferries." The enhanced port security follows the ISIS inspired truck attack on Bastille Day in Nice, France which killed 84 people and the killing of a priest in a Normandy church.
But there seems to be uncertainty regarding what caused the explosion and where it occurred.
While the UK based newspapers initially speculated that the explosion might have been caused by a terrorist organization, the media in France concluded that the explosion came from a bomb from the Second World War. The French newspaper Le Figaro suggested that the explosion was allegedly caused by a bomb left from World War II.
Mail Online's article was originally titled "Marseilles ferry passengers and crew flee after "explosion" heard amid fears of ISIS attack." The newspaper changed it to "Panic as 77 passengers and crew evacuated from a ferry in Marseilles after WWI ammunition "explodes" in the seabed."
It remains unclear whether the bomb was intentionally or accidentally exploded.
The bomb reportedly did not cause any damage to the ferry or injuries to the passengers or crew.
There are mixed messages about cruising to Turkey, following a spate of terrorist attacks in the last six months and the failed military coup two weeks ago.
A number of cruise lines stopped calling on Turkey following the June 29th ISIS-inspired terrorist attack at the Ataturk airport in Istanbul when three suicide bombers exploded powerful devices that killed over 40 people and injured over 230 others. This latest attack came after at least eight terror attacks in Turkey dating back a year.
On July 15th, a coup led by some military officers failed. President Erdogad responded by engaging in what the New York Times is calling a "widespread purge, jailing and suspending tens of thousands of state employees . . . " The Times further notes that "the military that has long served as a unifying force for the country is deeply divided, diminished and discredited."
The U.S. State Department "warns U.S. citizens of increased threats from terrorist groups throughout Turkey and to avoid travel to southeastern Turkey. In light of the July 15 coup attempt and the resulting potential for interruptions to travel and daily life, we suggest U.S. citizens reconsider travel to Turkey at this time."
The Maritime Executive published an article yesterday stating that even before the failed revolt, terrorist attacks had prompted cruise operators to reduce their stops in Turkey. But the July 15th coup attempt caused cruise lines to cut back further on scheduled port calls in Istanbul and other Turkish ports. It quoted a travel agent stating that "I would not feel comfortable sending people on holiday in the next few months. [The coup attempt] is more damaging for tourism than the terror attacks.”
But other publications are suggesting that the cruise business in Turkey has already bounced back to what it was before the coup attempt. The Turkish Daily Sabah says that a representative of the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TÜRSAB) reported that the failed coup attempt caused only "slight losses" in Turkey's cruise tourism sector. According to the Daily Sabah, Cihangir Canıyılmaz, the marketing director of Royal Caribbean in Turkey, said that shortly after the coup attempt, that the cruise line canceled 46 cruise voyages to Kuşadasi and five voyages to Bodrum until the end of year. However, he claims that Royal Caribbean has resumed cruises to Turkey on July 20th, following President Erdogad's declaration of the state of emergency on July 20th, and the number of tourists in the country remains high.
Whether that is true or just wishful thinking by the tourist people in Turkey, it is concerning that the Turkish military, which has been an ally of the U.S. in fighting terrorism and in curtailing the threat of ISIS, is now diminished. The military in Turkey was also vital in "controlling the migrant tide that has overwhelmed Europe," as the Times puts it.
Turkey is a beautiful country with a spectacular history and architecture, filled with warm and friendly people. It is a wonderful place to visit. But with its recent history of ISIS terrorist attacks and migrants at sea and ashore, cruising to Turkey may cause a prudent traveler to pause and reconsider.
Terrorism hit the Atataturk airport in Istanbul last night as three suicide bombers exploded powerful devices that killed and injured a large number of people. The rising number of victims is currently 42 dead and 239 injured. ISIS is suspected as inspiring or directing the attack.
Cable news repeatedly showed frightening images of massive explosions in a transit lounge as well as a gunman, running into the airport shooting a AK-47 assault weapon, who then is shot by airport security and drops his weapon only to blow his suicide vest up as he lies on the floor.
This latest attack comes on the heels of previous terrorist attacks in Turkey (including two prior attacks in Istanbul this year, including a car bomb earlier this month and a suicide bomber earlier this year as well as deadly car bombs in Ankara this year) which doubtlessly will have the effect of frightening people from traveling or cruising to Turkey.
A number of newspapers have recently reported that the two terrorists attacks last year in Tunisia (which killed 17 cruise passengers from Costa and MSC cruise ships at the Bardo Museum in Tunis and, later, several dozens of British tourists on holiday at beach resorts in Sousse Tunisia) is causing the country's tourism industry to struggle. Skift reports that Tunisian tourist revenue was down 35 percent last year, at $1.5 billion, and caused the dinar currency to historic lows against the dollar and euro this month.
This is bad news for the future of tourism in Turkey. There have been at least eight terror attacks in Turkey dating back a year. USA TODAY today published an article today which notes that "the string of attacks have caused a big drop in tourism, a major source of revenue for Turkey. Many cruise ships that used to make port calls in Istanbul are bypassing the city."
The U.S. State Department "warns U.S. citizens of increased threats from terrorist groups throughout Turkey and to avoid travel to southeastern Turkey" (i.e., near Syria). The June 27, 2016 warning, issued the day before the attack, said: ""foreign and U.S. tourists have been explicitly targeted by international and indigenous terrorist organizations."
The CruiseArabia website says that "just two international cruise ships were in Turkish waters at the time of the attack Tuesday, both Wind Star and Royal Caribbean’s ‘Jewel of the Seas’ have continued with their cruise itineraries as planned.
At the time of writing Jewel of the Seas was in port in Kusudasi while Wind Star was anchored off Bodrum. Both Windstar Cruises and Royal Caribbean have refused to comment on whether any additional security has been put in place for passengers on shore excursions in the wake of the attacks."
Photo credit: Top - Fox News; Bottom AP via IndianExpress
I could not help noticing that USA travel writer Gene Sloan's article today entitled Afraid to cruise in Europe? Nuts! Now's a great time to go seems to be sponsored by Viking River Cruises. The don't-worry-be-happy article starts after a 65 photo portfolio as part of an introductory summary of "Cruise ship tours: Viking River Cruises' Viking Skirnir" and then is followed by another 99 photos which were part of another article promoting Viking - "First look: Inside Viking Cruises' new Viking Sea." Just two days ago, Gene was hawking Viking cruises in another article - New Viking line plans epic, 141-day world cruise.
There's no question that cruising to Europe seems to be lagging behind cruises to other locations which are perceived to be safer, like the Caribbean. We all know from comments by the cruise executives at Royal Caribbean following its last quarter that Americans Are Cruising Closer to U.S. Waters, due to the terrorist activities in Paris and Brussels.
The number one location that we are asked about is Turkey. To respond to such inquiries, we mention prior terrorist attacks there and the issue of immigrants from Syria and other countries, but the reader has to make up their own mind whether it is reasonably safe based on their own risk assessment.
But it's naive to think that cruising to the Caribbean is safer than cruising to Europe. I can readily say that cruising to the Caribbean will take you to some of the most dangerous ports of call in the world, not from terrorists mind you, but from common criminals. Some of the Caribbean ports have a lot of crime and high murder rates which make cruising to Nassau, St. Thomas and Roatan like cruising to East St. Louis, Baltimore and Detroit except most U.S. citizens don't know any better. Europe is far safer than the Caribbean in terms of rape, murder, harassment and theft.
Regarding the threat of terrorism, we have written many articles pointing out what the true experts are saying, like U.S. and British naval commanders who are reporting about the threats of ISIS to Europe from North Africa. Take a moment and read the recent article by Captain Robert N. Hein, a career Surface Warfare Officer - Terrorists on the Ocean: Sea Monsters in the 21st Century via the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC). Captain Hein previously commanded the USS Gettysburg (a guided-missile cruiser) and the USS Nitze (a destroyer). I also suggest that travelers consider the warning of retired U.S. Admiral James Stavridis or the warning from the U.K. naval commander for NATO that ISIS presents a threat to shipping in the Mediterranean Sea.
Most experts seems to say it's just a matter of when and where, not if, ISIS will attack. The highly respected gCaptain reported yesterday that Captain William Nault, Chief of Staff with the multi-national Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), told Reuters that Al Qaeda’s Yemen branch remains a powerful force and poses a growing risk to ships.
We have seen other don't-worry-about-a-thing articles from travel writers before, like the article in the Telegraph in February - Are Cruise Holidays Safe from Terrorism? written by U.K. cruise travel specialist Jane Archer, who appeared to us to ignore history and down-play the threat of terror.
Chances are remote, of course, that you will be attacked by terrorists when you cruise in or around Europe. The chances of being a victim of crime in the Caribbean are greater. But as far as cruises in either part of the world, you certainly aren't nuts if you decide to vacation somewhere else this summer.
Fortunately, other knowledgeable experts have provided a more realistic view of ISIS's motivations. Captain Robert N. Hein, a career Surface Warfare Officer, wrote an article which was published today, Terrorists on the Ocean: Sea Monsters in the 21st Century via the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC). Captain Hein is hardly an arm chair quarterback; he previously commanded the USS Gettysburg (a guided-missile cruiser) and the USS Nitze (a destroyer).
He suggests that it is not if, but when will ISIS and "other terrorist organizations bring their brand of mayhem to the oceans?" Citing the many examples of attacks ashore, Captain Hein suggests that an ISIS attack on an underway cruise ship is real. Like assaulting a "large and remote or underdefended luxury hotel," the "narrative ISIS hopes to convey from attacking a cruise ship at sea is akin to many horror movies: a captive victim with nowhere to turn for help."
He estimates that the chance that ISIS will attack "blue water objectives out of sight of land" is still remote as long as navies of the world continue to provide a credible presence on the oceans. However, coastal attacks like that committed by ISIS predecessor Al Qaeda against the USS Cole (attack diagram above) remain more probable. And he specifically cites the terrorist attacks last March at the Bardo museum in Tunis, when cruise passengers from a Costa and MSC cruise ship were killed. He also cites a shore-launched rocket attack on an Egyptian naval ship in August of last year.
Photo Credit: USS Cole diagram - Reuters; Video credit: U.K.'s Mirror
Royal Caribbean's Adam Goldstein was on FOX Business's@MorningsMaria yesterday. The FOX analysts questioned Mr. Goldstein after the terrorists' attack on the airport and subway in Belgium yesterday.
Mr. Goldstein, the President and Chief Operating Officer of the cruise line, explained that his company makes a lot of effort into its security. Royal Caribbean's cruise ships call on approximately 500 ports annually. Like other companies, it makes judgments based on the security information it has received prior to calling on a port. Occasionally, it will decide that it is not in the best interests of the cruise line and its guests to go to a particular port, like the recent case of Bali which its Celebrity Solstice and Royal Caribbean Radiance of the Seas avoided.
Most places Royal Caribbean sails to are "absolutely safe," Mr. Goldstein claims.
He said that after the terrorist attacks last year in Paris, there was a "brief" decline in business of a week or two from Northern Europe countries. He said the effect on his cruise line business was "de minimis." He does not expect anything different after this latest attack in Brussels.
The FOX News panel also questioned Mr. Goldstein on the effect of the Zika virus on bookings. He also downplayed the effect of this serious medical problem, which is believed to cause abnormally underdeveloped heads (microcephaly) in newborn children.
Mr. Goldstein said: "We are not aware that we ever saw any sort of impact on the business and it doesn't seem to be a conversation today."
This is an interesting perspective. Yesterday, another financial show on CNBC, Jim Cramer's MAD MONEY, suggested that although cruise lines deny that the Zika virus has affected their operations to date, it will severely impact cruising in the coming months.
Royal Caribbean is canceling the March 17th port call in Bali for the Radiance of the Seas due to its concerns over terrorism. The cruise line informed passengers:
"Hello, this is Royal Caribbean International. We would like to provide you with some important information regarding your March 12, 2016, sailing onboard Radiance of the Seas. In an abundance of caution, and based on the latest security information we have gathered, Royal Caribbean International has made a decision to cancel its call to Bali, Indonesia on Thursday, March 17, 2016. Additional ports of call have been added to your itinerary. A letter with additional details will be provided to you at boarding. We appreciate your understanding as your safety is always our foremost concern."
March 10, 2016 Update: Newspapers in Australia are reporting that the "Radiance of the Seas and the Celebrity Millenium will also leave the island off their itineraries. Celebrity Millenium was due to overnight in Bali on March 16, and Radiance of the Seas was scheduled to visit the following day."
Today I received copies of letters handed out to the passengers and crew members on the Celebrity Solstice indicating that the cruise ship will not be calling on Bali (Benoa) due to the potential of a terrorist attack.
As you can see below, the letter distributed to the passengers yesterday mentions travel warnings about potential terrorist attacks in Bali issued by the Australian and U.K. governments. In addition, the letter signed by Captain Yannis Berdos, states that:
"the most recent information received in the past few days indicates that the possibility of an incident has increased. Also the Balinese New Year on March 9th, and recent past advisories has named this date as one that would be targeted by terrorists. Based on all of this information we have gathered from various sources, and in discussion with our Global Security team in Miami, we have made a decision to cancel our call to Bali."
The letter mentions (not to nitpick) that Celebrity felt that it "could not guarantee" passenger safety in Bali due to these concerns. Of course, cruise lines have no legal duty to "guarantee" safety but only to act reasonably and to warn passengers of dangers which the cruise companies know or should know about ashore in ports of call.
It looks like Celebrity is acting prudently in taking steps to reduce the threat of harm to its passengers and crew. I have been critical in the past of cruise lines when they cruise passenger into dangerous ports of call, like when Costa and MSC sailed into La Goulette, Tunisia and ISIS slaughtered several dozen cruise passengers.
The letter sent to the Celebrity crew members today by the Solstice's Executive Team mentions what is referred to as "credible security concerns" that led to the decision to bypass Bali.
Many crew members are from Indonesia and will now be unable to visit with their family and loved ones.
The 2002 Bali bombings (photo above) occurred in October of 2002 in the tourist district of Kuta on Bali. The attack killed over 200 people (including 88 Australians, 38 Indonesians, and people from more than 20 other nationalities). An additional 200 people were also injured.
Jemaah Islamiyah members, a violent Islamist group supported by al-Qaeda, were convicted of engaging in the bombings which involved the detonation of a backpack bomb by a suicide bomber and a large car bomb. Three of the terrorists were executed. A recording from Osama Bin Laden stated that the Bali bombings were in retaliation for support of the United States' war on terror and Australia's role in the liberation of East Timor.
The Jakarta Post recently published an article stating that cruise tourism is increasing in Bali, the country’s most famous tourist destination. In 2015, 58 cruise ships arrived on the island.
March 7, 2016 Update:
A local newspaper in Bali questions the timing of the cancellation, writing: "questions have been raised by at least one passenger via postings on Facebook on the timing of the cancellation of the visit to Bali. The last warning from the Australian Government urging extreme caution for those traveling to Indonesia was issued on February 25th – a date well in advance of the Celebrity Solstice’s departure from Australia to Bali. . . . Questions are being raised as to why the decision and announcement on Bali’s removal from the cruise itinerary not delivered to passengers prior sailing?"
Trave Agent Central points out that Celebrity's sister cruise line Royal Caribbean, which shares the same Global Security team, is sailing the Radiance of the Seas to Bali later this month as well as in April.
Military.com reports that retired U.S. Admiral James Stavridis stated at a naval / private industry conference that the next attack by Islamic State militants may be directed to a navy ship or a cruise ship.
The military.com website quotes the distinguished retired naval commander saying: "We have an organization that has demonstrated they are highly innovative and I don't rule out a Cole-like event," referring to the 2000 event when an al-Qaida group rammed a boat filled with explosives into the U.S. destroyer U.S. S. Cole. The terrorist attack occurred when the naval ship was being refueled in the Yemeni port of Aden. 17 American sailors were killed and 39 service men and women were injured.
According to military.com, the commander said: "I'm surprised [Islamic State militants] have not as yet moved into the maritime world and gone after cruise ships, which I think are a logical and lucrative target for them."
He mentioned the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Laurocruise ship by Palestinian militants who murdered Jewish-American passenger Leon Klinghoffer.
The article mentioned that Commander Stavridis said that ships were "most vulnerable when they were first getting underway and going out to sea," not when they were pier-side or out on the open ocean. "If I were an Islamic State planner, that's what I would be looking at," he said.
News accounts are reporting that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) arrested a cruise passenger in Miami on charges that he has outstanding arrest warrants for kidnapping as well as assault and battery.
The charges involve criminal allegations made in South Carolina. The newspaper said the unidentified person is now awaiting extradition to South Carolina.
A CBP spokesperson at the port in Miami was quoted saying: "intercepting wanted criminals and detaining them on behalf of a law enforcement agency is part and parcel to what CBP does to ensure those crossing the border into the United States do not pose a risk to our nation and its population.”
The above quote is rather bizarre because the man arrested is apparently an U.S. citizen who went on a cruise out of Miami which included a port in Jamaica. So the CBP should have arrested the cruise passenger on the assault and kidnapping charges at the beginning of the cruise rather than at the end.
The news release by the CBP is misleading and says that the man was arrested "after he arrived here on a cruise ship from Jamaica." Of course, there are no cruises which originate in Jamaica.
The CBP boasts that the arrest demonstrates "vigilance and dedication exercised every day by CBP officers to secure our homeland and safeguard our citizens." But the truth of the matter is that the CBP didn't bother to screen the cruise manifest and arrest the wanted man before he sailed from U.S. waters.
This reveals a major flaw in the CBP which does not bother to review who is leaving the country on cruises. This person had an outstanding arrest warrant for serious violent felonies yet he was permitted on the unidentified cruise ship to mingle with passengers when potentially he posed a danger to others.
The CBP's primary mission is anti-terrorism, it admits, so it is inexcusable that it does not scrutinize passenger lists before cruise ships sail out of U.S waters.
The Customs and Border Patrol should begin vetting the name of passengers before the cruise starts, rather than screening passengers only at the end of the cruise. Unfortunately this is standard practice for the CBP, which routinely permits rapists, criminals with outstanding warrants and other misfits to board cruise ships. Then there is great fanfare at the end of the cruise when the CBP finally take a look at the ship manifest.
As we reported before, cruise passengers Steven Mark Anthony Requena (photo right), age 28, was arrested while disembarking the Carnival Inspiration at the Port of Tampa two year ago. His name was flagged by a sweep of the manifest of passengers by Homeland Security officials who determined that the passenger was wanted for sexual assault in addition to assault with a weapon and forcible confinement. The U.S. Marshals arrested Requena only after the cruise ship returned to port. Regretfully, our federal government routinely looks at the ship passenger list only after the bad guys have already boarded the cruise ship.
It is one of the reasons why cruising is more dangerous that it should be. At a time when the world is focused on dealing with ISIS, it is irresponsible for our Federal employees not to look at the passenger list before the cruise ship leaves a U.S. port.
It's a topic we cover often. It is our belief that cruise ships are woefully unprepared to address the threat of an ISIS attack on a cruise ship and when cruise passenger are sent ashore on excursions, where they are particularly vulnerable.
She argues that: "One of the benefits of a cruise holiday is that cruise companies can change itineraries immediately in response to incidents. Hotels cannot do that. If the cruise lines believe it is dangerous to visit a particular port, they can simply alter course and so (sic) somewhere else so holidays are not ruined."
Ms. Archer also says that "there is no evidence at all that terrorists have targeted cruise passengers in the past."
She also claims that "cruise lines conduct stringent security checks on everyone embarking their ships. Luggage is put through X-ray scanners, just as it is at an airport before flying, and passengers have to walk through detectors before being allowed on board."
22 cruise tourists from a Costa and a MSC cruise ship were slaughtered when they disembarked excursion buses at the Bardo museum in Tunis with absolutely no security and no warnings even though it was widely known to these cruise lines that ISIS presented a danger in the region. The cruise lines cruised their guests into danger and should have sailed them elsewhere but didn't. Cruise lines are often motivated primarily by financial considerations, not the safety and security of their passengers.
Yes, of course terrorists have targeted cruise passengers in the past. Putting aside the Achille Lauro terrorist attack back in the 1980's, the Rand corporation has more recently stated that cruise passengers are targets. CNN reported that al Qaeda contemplated seizing a cruise ship, forcing the passengers to dress in orange Guantanamo Bay-like suits, and videotape their executions to inflict maximum terror on the public. Read al Qaeda Planned to Seize Cruise Ships, Execute Passengers. Of course, ISIS just targeted the cruise passengers' excursion buses in Tunis.
Think that all passenger luggage is carefully screened for security purposes? Ask yourself that question after reading Port of Miami Security Guards Arrested for Stealing Cruise Passenger iPads. Large quantities of drugs are also often smuggled aboard cruise ships by crew members without detection. If crew members or passengers can smuggle large quantities of drugs onto ships in luggage or taping the drugs to their bodies, they can do the same with explosives.
U.S. immigrations officials typically do not review passenger manifests until after the cruise ship sails and arrest people with outstanding warrants only when the cruise ship returns to port. Are you about to cruise with a terrorist in the cabin next door? Maybe. The Customs and Border Protection officials may arrest the bad guys but only if you make it back to port.
ISIS already blew up an Egyptian frigate at sea, just last year (photo above). As we all know, Islamic extremists blew up the USS Cole many years ago, by ramming a small boat packed with explosives into the naval ship, killing many U.S. service men and women.
The warning signs are all there. It's your decision who to believe or disbelieve. Do you tend to trust the top NATO naval commander for the U.K. or a cruise writer for the Telegraph?
There are nearly 500 comments to the article some of which are quite interesting to read.
The Yahoo article does not really touch upon the issue that cruise ships are largely unarmed. So regardless how you feel about the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the cruise ships by and large don't have armed security guards. Contrary to people who want to believe that the ships are armed but the cruise lines don't want to tip their hand to the terrorists, there is in fact no hidden cache of weapons ready to be deployed by the cruise ship's security forces.
Cruise ships are flagged in foreign countries like the Bahamas or Panama. The international Maritime Organization (IMO) has no authority to regulate the use of guns on these foreign flagged ship. The IMO does not even recommend that cruise ships have guns.
We have written about the dangerous current set of affairs where some cruise ships are sailing into Somali pirate infested waters where the few security guards had to use fake wooden rifles, deck chairs and water cannons to fight off pirates armed with rocket propelled grenades. You can read about pirate attacks against cruise ships here:
Some cruise ships go as far as to install razor wire around the rails and position logs to be dropped on the pirates below if they run their skiffs up to the cruise ship. You can see a photo of this spectacle here.
As we explained in this article, the IMO issued "guidance" on the use of armed guards on ships, but stresses that it is still not recommending them. Instead it states that shipping companies should consider arming crew members or hiring private armed guards on board only after conducting a risk assessment subject to approval by the flag state. The IMO also recommends that shipping companies follow all laws and regulations imposed by that flag state regarding the use of armed guard apply to their vessels.
The only cruise ships which seems to permit weapons aboard are flagged in Italy, which seems to have a different attitude towards guns and permits cruise ships flagged there (like Costa) to have weapons aboard.
A Costa ship got itself into a bit of scandal a couple of years ago when a female crew member was photographed holding a huge automatic weapon in the bridge of the cruise ship. The Italian newspaper Oggi published photographs of the attractive Romanian blonde, Sasha Alexandra, posing in the bridge of the Costa Atlantica. She was photographed next to the captain in a tight cocktail dress holding a large machine gun.
But cruise ships from Carnival, Royal Caribbean or NCL, flying the flags of the Bahamas or Panama, have no weapons at sea.
A Greek newspaper is reporting that the MSC Fantasia has been subjected to a search for explosives today after calling on Haifa.
The MSC cruise ship arrived today in the Bay of Souda near Chania in Crete. A Greek newspaper in Athens "To Vima" reports that suspicious passengers or explosives may be on board the ship.
The MSC ship carries 3,393 passengers with a crew of 1,259 people. The ship was originally headed for the port of Heraklion. The Coast Guard and other authorities at the Souda naval base were reportedly notified.
The newspaper says that the MSC Captain advised the authorities that the ship was changing course because of the weather and that a passenger, apparently a German citizen, had died and needed to be autopsied to determine whether the passenger died from cardiac causes as suspected. However, the newspaper reports that the ship had already changed course for security reasons.
The article said that the recent terrorist attack in Istanbul by ISIS had raised an alert regarding terrorism including attacks on cruise ships sailing in the region.
The next port for the Fantasia will be Civitavecchia in Italy.
A German newspaper contains a quote from MSC Cruises saying that bad weather was the reason for the diversion. The cruise line said rumors of security issues are "totally unfounded."
I would be interested in hearing what crew members and passenger have to say about the weather conditions at the time.
There nonetheless appears to be a heightened security alert following the terrorist attack in Turkey.
ABC News reported yesterday that Crystal Cruises announced that it was canceling stops for the Crystal Symphony in Istanbul and Kusadasi, Turkey "in response to ongoing security concerns."
The itineraries for Crystal voyages that set sail April 24 and May 1 will reportedly include destinations in Greece instead of Turkey.
The U.S. State Department has alerted its citizens of possible risks of travel due to increased terrorist threats. "Current information suggests that ISIL (aka Da’esh), al-Qa’ida, Boko Haram, and other terrorist groups continue to plan terrorist attacks in multiple regions. These attacks may employ a wide variety of tactics, using conventional and non-conventional weapons and targeting both official and private interests."
The warning, which technically ended on Tuesday, advises U.S. citizens to exercise vigilance when in public places or using transportation.
ISIS has claimed responsibility for a number of high-profile incidents including the October 31st bombing of a Russian airliner in Egypt, killing 224 people. on a flight from Sharm El-Sheikh to St Petersburg and the recent November 13th attacks in Paris.
President Obama spoke this afternoon on the terror alert and stated that there is no "specific and credible" threat to the U.S. Even assuming that to be true, there have no doubt been prior terrorist incidents which have affected cruise passengers. Cruise passengers from Costa and MSC cruise ships were massacred in Tunis last earlier this year. We have predicted how the next terrorist attack against a cruise ship will take place.
The Islamist Menace Shadowing This Sept. 11th, written by former mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani, indicates that America is in denial of the "increasing and diversifying" jihadist threats of violence. Unlike President Obama who avoids any characterization of terrorism linked to Islamic radicalism, Giuliani traces the threat of killing Americans in terror attacks squarely back to "extremist interpretation of Muhammad’s call to jihad." He cites the 1985 murder of Jewish cruise passenger Leon Klinghoffer, who was killed by "Islamic terrorist terrorists" while in his wheelchair and dumped into the Mediterranean Sea, as an example of what can happen today.
But families booking cruises to Mediterranean ports of call don't read history books. I doubt that 5 percent of U.S. cruisers know the story of Leon Klinghoffer or could name the cruise ship he was slaughtered on.
This week I was contacted by cruise passengers who were upset that their cruises to Istanbul were canceled. They scoffed when the captain mentioned the threat of terrorism as an explanation.
ISIS radicals today present a threat far more widespread and deadly than the PLO terrorists of the 1980's. Are cruise passengers in denial? Yes, of course. No one wants to contemplate terrorism at sea during a holiday cruise any more than they wish to consider experiencing a cruise ship fire, which is a relatively common occurrence as recent events illustrate.
Are cruise executives downplaying the threat of ISIS blowing up a ship or holding passengers hostage? Such talk is bad for business. Other than occasionally canceling a port of two, the cruise industry routinely sails through the Suez canal and to ports in Morocco, Algeria, and Egypt.
Don't assume that the cruise lines will avoid a dangerous port of call. Islamic terrorists killed 32 cruise passengers in Tunisia earlier this year when Costa and MSC cruised blindly into the Goulette port in Tunis. Despite the foreseeable risk of danger presented by Islamic terrorists active in the country and in nearby Libya, the cruise lines provided absolutely no security or warnings to their guests.
Today, Celebrity canceled more port stops, announcing that the Reflection will not stay in Istanbul on August 31st and will depart earlier in the day. Celebrity will also skip the Reflection's port call in Istanbul on September 4th & 5th and will instead call on Athens.
Costa and other cruise lines are under pressure not to sail more passengers into danger like Costa recklessly did when it cruised to Tunisia in March, resulting in passengers being slaughtered. I called for the security chiefs to be sacked.
Today I received a message from a passenger aboard the Celebrity Equinox that the Equinox was skipping the port of Istanbul because of the threat of terrorism.
Gabriele Giambrone commented that "Celebrity Equinox canceled our planned stop in Istanbul tomorrow due to terrorist fears and high security alerts. We will be having a day at sea instead."
He states on his Facebook page that "this is an announcement from your Captain: due to high security risks and an increased risk of terrorist attacks, we won't be going to Istanbul tomorrow. Enjoy the rest of your holiday."
The Wall Street Journal recently mentioned "a spate of attacks across Turkey that targeted security forces and a U.S. consulate killed six people."
"A recent surge in violence on Turkish soil has largely been blamed on the domestic conflict with Kurdish separatist group PKK, not Islamic State . . . Turkey is now battling a chaotic mix of the PKK, Marxist militants and Islamic State while dealing with a huge influx of Syrian refugees."
Costa recently canceled all stops in Turkey.
Royal Caribbean and Celebrity have a Global Security Team headed by former FBI senior official Gary Bald. Foreign port safety assessment is a function of every cruise line. It's good to see cruise lines taking affirmative steps to keep passengers and crew members safe, rather than Costa and MSC sailing their guests blindly into a danger spot like Tunis earlier this year.
ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. The SITE Intel Group says that the terrorists destroyed the naval ship with a guided missile. The images were widely broadcast. Time and Al Jazeera and many other newspapers and news stations published them.
No travel or cruise magazine will publish them, for obvious reasons.
Is it foreseeable that ISIS will attack a cruise ship? Of course, but you would never know that if you rely on the cruise industry or your local travel agent for information and advice.
The cruise industry has a nonchalant view of terrorism. It reassures its customers that it's allegedly safe to cruise in the Mediterranean. Costa and MSC (and five other cruise lines) scheduled calls in Tunis (La Goulette) even after the Bardo Museum massacre where 22 cruise passengers were slaughtered. The second attack in Tunisia was predictable and came in June when a single radicalized Muslim with a Kalashnikov gunned down 38 more tourists at the resorts in Sousse.
Cruise ships sailing in Mediterranean waters are sitting ducks. I have been criticized before for explaining how the terrorists will attack cruise passengers as they sail off the Coasts of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.
Terrorists have demonstrated that they can blown up a U.S. Navy vessel (USS Cole - 16 years ago). When the jihdists want to focus the cross-hairs of their weapons on a slow moving cruise ship, they can easily do so. The only question is whether the action will be in the form of an external attack (suicidal jihadists on a small boat with explosives ram the ship or the terrorists fire RPG's into the hull), or whether the terrorists will try and board the ship and take the cruise passengers hostage and begin beheading them on video.
MSC and Costa sailed their guests into danger in March when terrorists slaughtered cruise tourists as they exited into the Tunis museum excursion site from cruise buses transporting them from the port. The cruise lines neither provided nor arranged security for their customers or, for that matter, announced even a single warning of the risks of danger.
Terrorists have attacked tourist spots in Tunisia before and would so again.
The cruise lines ignored the considerable risks posed by the ISIS and Al Queda terrorists growing in neighboring Libya and already festering in Tunisia. After the bloodshed, the cruise industry quickly launched a PR campaign stating that cruising to Tunis was safe.
Soon, MSC and Costa began rescheduling calls to Tunis, notwithstanding the loss of life.
Princess, Croisieres De France (CDF), Holland America Line, Viking Ocean Cruises and Star Clippers also scheduled cruise ship to head to Tunis, as reported by the Cruise Arabia website.
But then terrorists targeted a resort in Tunisia frequented by tourists. On June 26th, 38 tourists were killed. Terrible, gruesome deaths. These were not cruise vacationers, but mostly British and European families on holiday, so the story was not portrayed as an attack on the cruise industry.
Today, the prime minister of Tunisia says that additional plots, aimed at "massive deaths," are in the works. He earlier declared a state of emergency.
60 tourists to Tunisia were killed in the two deadly attack in Tunisia in the past three months. I suppose it doesn't really matter what the PR departments of the cruise lines say anymore. Their lack of credibility has been established. I believe Minister Habib Essid when he says that the terrorists are plotting the deaths of tourists, whether they arrive by cruise ship, airplane or bus.
I reached out today on Twitter and Facebook to determine which cruise lines canceled their stops in Tunis. A couple of passengers tell me that Costa, which canceled cruise after the March attacks but scheduled stops in August, just canceled some of their calls later this summer. But no word from any travel agents, or cruise lines for that matter, whether they are still selling cruises to North Africa.
July 9 2015 Update: MSC announced today that the "MSC Preziosa no longer will visit La Goulette, Tunisia between November 15, 2015 and April 23, 2016 as scheduled. The ship instead will stop in Valletta, Malta. Also affected are single sailings of the MSC Magnifica and MSC Poesia in November and December, respectively. Both of the ships instead will stop in Alicante, Spain."
July 10 2015 Update: According to Time magazine, the terrorist trained with extremists in Libya at the same time as the two gunmen who killed the 22 cruise passengers in the March attack during the Bardo museum excursion for Costa and MSC in Tunis.
"Thirty of the 38 people killed in Sousse were British tourists. Britain’s Foreign Office warned tourists Thursday to leave Tunisia as soon as possible, saying a further terrorist attack was 'highly likely.'”
Is the cruise industry taking terrorism seriously?
The reader then selects one of two possible answers:
No, it needs to do more ___
Yes, it's doing enough to protect passengers ___
So far, 92% of those responding answered No, with only 8%.saying Yes.
The poll confirms what I suspected about the cruise industry - that is is perceived by the public as pushing itineraries in the Middle East which are potentially dangerous with little concerned about the safety of the passengers.
Costa and MSC Cruises did not issue a single warning to their passengers before unloading them in Tunis. Both cruise lines were pushing excursions in Tunisia. Neither cruise line arranged for security for the buses targeted by the terrorists. The cruise excursion buses unloaded the passengers into a trap because of the negligence of the cruise lines.
Will the cruise industry wake up and protect their guests? It seems that the public thinks that the cruise lines can do a lot more.
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Photo Credit: Rene Grob via Wikimedia Creative Commons 3.0
Security failed the tourists from the Costa and MSC cruise ships visiting Tunisia last week. The result: 17 dead cruise passengers and two dozen injured.
Tunisia acknowledges it. The risk of jihadists attacking tourists was readily foreseeable. Security analysts and security forces blew it.
In response to this failure, Tunisia fired the country's leading security experts as well as high ranking police officers.
Two newspapers covered the firings.
Al Jazeera published Six Tunisia Police Chiefs Dismissed Over Museum Attack. The article explains that Tunisia's prime minister Habas Essid fired six police commanders, including those in charge of tourist security and intelligence teams. In addition, a police officer working at the museum was arrested for abandoning his post during the attack. Four other armed police officers "were having coffees and a snack" when terrorists struck the museum.
The Daily News published Tunisia Fires 5 Top Security Officials in Bardo Museum Attack Backlash. The article pointed out that the ousted officials include the director of Tunisia’s tourist police and the police chief for the neighborhood around the Bardo Museum. The decision was reportedly made after the prime minister visited the neighborhood of the attack and observed security problems. Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi reportedly also criticized security failures around last week’s attack.
But what about the security chief at Costa and MSC, including ship security officers and fleet-wide security directors? Why weren't they fired? They are just as responsible for the security failure. The cruise lines picked the port and sailed their guests into danger without any security protection or warnings. The cruise industry is not only refusing to take any responsibility for the massacre but the spokesperson for the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) is boasting that "cruise ships are a safe and secure place for our guests in the rare event of a shore side incident."
MSC Cruises USA CEO Rick Sasso told Travel Pulse "There was no hint of terrorism or uncertainty in Tunisia before the attack . . . There are a zillion ports around the world, and we follow all of them. . . There was nothing going on there that indicated this should've been a concern."
I am amazed how clueless this cruise executive sounds. Tunisian soldiers were engaged in ongoing battles against Al Qaeda, there were prior suicides bombers which targeted hotels and museum attacks which targeted tourists. The UK issued a prior warning of a terrorist attack on tourist sites and the US repeatedly urged caution. ISIS was recruiting young men from mosques in Tunis to be trained and radicalized in Libya. And MSC sails in like everything is fine.
Tunisia should be commended for taking responsibility and cleaning house.
It's a shame that the PR department at CLIA and the CEO of MSC are engaged in their usual irresponsible shenanigans and gobbledygook.
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For the past couple of years I've been troubled by the increasing violence in North Africa and the Middle East and the unprecedented nature of the cruelty of jihadist terrorists who have beheaded and burned "infidels" alive. I have worried about various scenarios where cruise passengers are at risk of attack.
Our readers have sent us various scenarios of how cruise passengers are at risk on the high seas and in ports of call.
A terrorist fires a RPG into a cruise ship: Libya is awash in weapons after Colonel Muammar Gadaffi was killed and lost control of the country. Automatic weapons, rocket propelled grenades (RPG's), mortars, bazookas, and anti-aircraft guns have fallen into the hands of violent religious fanatics. The two Tunisian terrorists killed during the attack on Costa and MSC cruise passengers were trained in Libya. ISIS and Al Qaeda, of course, have access to weapons, including RPG's, throughout the Middle East.
Think it's far fetched? Think again. Al Qaeda has already used this weapon to attack tankers in the Middle East. In the video below, you can see the terrorists fire their weapons, yell Allah Akbar ("God is Great") and run off into the bushes. Cruise ships are easy targets, over three football fields long and 15 stories high, moving at only a few knots an hours while entering and leaving ports. A RPG would slice though the aluminum hull like butter and cause fire, damage, injuries and death. They're sitting ducks without military escorts.
A USS Cole-style kamikaze attack on a cruise ship: Remember the U.S.S. Cole? 17 service men and women were murdered when suicide bombers rammed their speed boat loaded with explosives into the U.S. navy ship. Such an attack during a fueling operation while a fuel barge is alongside a cruise ship would result in a tremendous explosion with many hundreds of deaths.
Blowing up a tour excursion bus:There have been many tour buses filled with tourists which terrorists have attacked over the years. A bus with Korean tourists was exploded in Egypt last year. The saying "safety in numbers" doesn't apply to cruise passengers; its more likely to make you a target when you come off of a cruise ship and board a bus with fifty other passengers. You can see what a terrorist attack on a bus looks like in the video below.
Al Qaeda embeds themselves as crew members or passengers: After 9/11 and the attack on the twin towers, my office received a call from an agitated U.S. crew member (a musician). He was upset that other crew members on a U.S based cruise ship which sailed into Miami were literally cheering while watching televised images of the death and destruction. Some cruise lines boast that their crew come from 60 different countries. This may well be an asset in most circumstances but it underscores the fact that the crew members have loyalties to other countries and other causes than those shared by U.S. passengers.
". . . This isn't about the ports and the safety of them. A terrorist could be among you at the buffet, laying by the pool, playing slots, drinking at the bar … they lay in wait. They're completely legitimate looking like one of us. 50 of them could board a ship as a passenger with a clean record. They've been trained in other countries. They've lived in the countries they're in for years and they lay in wait anticipating their marching orders. Then three days into the cruise, they take over the ship and start killing passengers . . . And that's how it'll go down."
The cruise industry needs to wake up. Tunis was preventable. Greater attention to Al Qaeda and ISIS is necessary to avoid a similar if not worse attack on innocent passengers. Dangerous ports need to be avoided. In the past, Princess Cruises used security teams / police to accompany tour bus excursions in Egypt. Maritime security teams are also required in foreign ports of call to address the risk of waterborne attacks. Cruise lines are overflowing with cash. The cruise industry collects around $40 billion a year, pay their crew members peanuts and doesn't pay U.S. taxes. The industry needs to start investing some of those tens of millions of dollars into substantial security to keep their guests safe.
The article speculates whether cruise sales will drop following the Islamic State's massacre of cruise passenger's in Tunis last week.
In the last couple of years, first quarter "wave" sales were negatively impacted by the Costa Concordia disaster in January 2012 and the Carnival Triumph "poop cruise" in February 2013. The article suggests that whereas the sinking and engine room fire could arguably be blamed on the cruise lines, the public is not likely to fault the cruise lines for the terror attack last week.
I disagree with that premise. Costa and MSC sailed into a country with a history of fighting between Tunisian solders and Al Qaeda resulting in dozen of soldiers killed and wounded over the last two years. Tunisian men have been recruited to train in ISIS camps in Libya. There had been prior attacks against a popular museum in Tunisia and a suicide bomber blew himself up in a hotel frequented by tourists. What did the cruise lines think would happen after Tunisians were radicalized and trained to use automatic weapons in Libya and then returned home?
The public can easily conclude that the cruise lines sailed their guests into harm's way without warnings or any thought of providing security for the excursion buses.
But the cruise supporters are out in full force spinning the story to exculpate the cruise lines.
Another CLIA representative said: "Cruise ships are a safe and secure place for our guests in the rare event of a shore side incident."
The editor of Cruise Week, Mike Driscoll, spun the attack-on-cruise-passengers as not a "black eye" for cruising "because it's not the cruise lines' fault, and it didn't happen on a ship."
Travel Weekly interviewed a travel agent who said “I think we’re all keeping our fingers crossed that this will not have a negative impact.”
Travel Weekly published statements from the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) who claims that "cruise lines have worked for many years with security and law enforcement authorities around the world to ensure passenger safety." CLIA claims that it has procedures to provide “an immediate and effective response to any (security) incident.”
I don't believe it for a second.
The day before the attack the cruise executives were salivating over expanding their markets into North Africa and making greater profits. Their minds were on money, not security.
Costa and MSC were caught flat-footed in Tunis.
A former cruise line security chief was highly critical of the absence of any security for the Costa and MSC cruise passengers.
CLIA and Travel publications like Travel Weekly will continue issuing statements and publishing stories claiming that cruise passengers are safe and sound in North Africa and the Middle East. But the specter of dead passengers certainly will scare customers away and drive down cruise sales, especially in the Mediterranean. If the cruise industry is going to cross its fingers, it better be in the hope that ISIS doesn't target a cruise ship.
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As the death toll increases in Tunis, the former Director of Princess Cruises says that cruise security was lax and the cruise lines failed to assess the danger associated with sailing passengers into Tunis.
Commander Mark Gaouette told IHS Maritime that cruise security measures for passengers should have been stronger.
"I believe the risk management process failed to properly assess the extremely volatile situation in North Africa," he said.
". . . at a minimum, more security should have been required for that excursion in the form of armed police or military escort, and armed presence at the museum itself."
Commander Gaouette is the author of "Cruising for Trouble: Cruise Ships as Soft Targets for Pirates, Terrorists and Common Criminals."
The death and injury tally ranges around 17 dead and 20 to 25 passengers injured.
I remain amazed that the Costa captain piloted the Costa Fascinosa out of the port in Tunis and left 13 passengers behind, not knowing whether they were dead or injured. I can't help but think of Costa Captain Schettino leaving passengers behind as he fled the sinking Concordia in Giglio. Do I have this wrong? To give the Fascinosa captain the benefit of the doubt, I can only assume that he may have been concerned that terrorists might attack the ship itself and slam RPG's into it's hull or gun their way up the gangway and look for hostages. In that sense, maybe it was prudent to escape the port as soon as possible, although it begs the question why Costa was there in the first place.
Why any cruise line would sail into Tunis is beyond me. In 2013 and 2014, many dozens of Tunisian soldiers were killed and even more injured in deadly attacks perpetrated by al-Qaeda and other Islamic fighters, according to an article titled Terror and Politics in Tunisia in the publication World Affairs. Tunisia is a major recruiting ground for ISIS. Recruits are trained in Iraq, Syria or Libya and then return to Tunisia radicalized.
Costa and MSC have stated that they will not call on Tunisia in the foreseeable future. To me that's like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, as the saying goes. Whether these cruise ships will actually stay away remains to be seen. We have seen cruise lines announce with great fanfare that they are leaving a Caribbean port after a cruise passenger or employee has been killed ashore. They always return after the media attention dies down.
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Newspapers are reporting that several gunmen stormed a popular museum in Tunis, Tunisia today killing 17 tourists, as well as a police officer and Tunisian civilians. Some news accounts report that as many as two dozen people were also injured.
Two cruise ships were in port and had sent thousands of passengers into the city on excursions. CNN says that some of the cruise passengers were at the museum at the time of the attack. The Daily Mail reports that "a Tunisian tourist guide told how he 'stared death in the face' as terrorists opened fire on his clients in the attack which saw people shot as they exited cruise ship buses parked outside the museum."
CBS News says that the terrorists targeted tourist buses when they arrived at the museum. The terrorists, dressed in police uniforms, then opened fire on the tourists before they could reach the museum.
According to the Italian newspaper, The Local, a Costa cruise ship, the Fascinosa, with 3,161 registered passengers, was docked in Tunis at the time of the attack. Costa issued the following statement:
"On the occasion of today scheduled call some guests on cruise on board our Costa Fascinosa had a tour in the city. All the shore excursions organized by Costa during today stop in Tunis have been immediately recalled on board," the company said in a statement.
CNN says that the MSC Splendida was also in Tunis at the time of the attack.
The Italian newspaper stated that the Bardo museum is visited regularly by tourists, with many disembarking from Mediterranean cruises.
Commentators believe that the group is affiliated with an Islamic terrorist organization like ISIS. Tunisia is a major recruiting ground for ISIS.
The siege was the most violent attack on tourists in over a decade.
Mail Online has dramatic photos and video of the attack.
Costa stated on its website that the Costa Fascinosa left the port of Tunis at 1:55 PM. Upon departure, the captain reported that 13 passengers had not returned to the ship.
March 19 2015 Update:USA Today reports that "MSC Cruises said nine passengers from the Splendida were killed, 12 injured and six unaccounted-for, according to the AP. The Costa Fascinosa said 13 passengers had not returned on board when the ship left the port."
One question I am asked frequently is whether Islamic terrorists pose a threat to cruise ships. I received a couple of such inquiries in the last week. One from a mother in the U.K. whose son works on a cruise ship sailing the Mediterranean, and another from the father of a family in the U.S. thinking about taking a cruise from Spain to France, Italy, Greece and Turkey and back.
Yesterday several newspapers in Europe and the Middle East (Mail Online, Al Arabiya News) interviewed experts who have painted the scenario of speed boats operated by Islamic State terrorists attacking "fishing boats, cruise ships [and] small merchant ships" to capture people and parade them in orange jumpsuits before a video with a knife to their neck.
We have all seen the stories on CNN about the gruesome killing and beheading of innocent aid workers and journalists by ISIS in an effort to terrorize the televised world. In the last two weeks, we have also read stories about the barbaric burning-alive-in-a-cage of the Jordanian pilot and the beheading of twenty-one Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya. We are, of course, all afraid to actually see the videos of the terrifying violence.
As we sit in front of the television in our homes here in the U.S., we all feel safe from the terrorists, don't we? The beheadings are, after all, over there, in foreign places like Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and other unstable Arab countries.
But when U.S. citizens decide to fly to Europe and go on a cruise vacation with their family in the Mediterranean, are they placing themselves in harm's way?
In a word, yes.
The thought of Muslim terrorists hijacking a cruise ship is hardly new. Achille Laura instantly comes to mind. Forcing terrified cruise ship hostages into orange suits and executing them? al Queda has already planned that just a couple of years ago. CNN would cover the terror non-stop.
There are numerous studies by security companies and U.S. governmental organizations which have studied terrorist organizations and concluded that terrorism against cruise ships is likely.
The World Cruise Industry Review publication concluded several years ago that a likely terrorist scenario is the hijacking of a cruise ship and its passengers while terrorists kill passengers if demands are not met.
The issue has been discussed by a number of experts, including Commander Mark Gaouette who is the former director of security for Princess. He wrote a book "Cruising for Trouble" which specifically addresses the potential of a cruise ship as a target for terrorists.
15 years ago, 17 U.S. service men and women were brutally murdered when Islamic suicide bombers rammed their speed boat loaded with explosives into the U.S. navy ship, the U.S. Cole.
If the U.S. Navy can't protect its military fleet, what chances do thousands of U.S. tourists think they have of staying safe on a gigantic U.S. based cruise ship floating like a sitting duck in the harbor of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt?
ISIS has already taken over port cities in Libya, which is strategically located in the middle of North Africa. It would be easy for ISIS to launch a suicide jihad-by-sea against cruise ships sailing to or from North Africa and the Middle East.
Jihadists are already "using cruise ships to sneak into war zones" says the Maritime Executive. The fear is that the radicals will shift their focus to making the ship itself the war zone.
Families thinking of cruising in the Pacific Northwest (Seattle, Vancouver, Alaska) may be reasonably safe from an ISIS attack. A terrorist attack seems extremely unlikely to happen in the Caribbean. But sailing into a port in Morocco, Tunisia or Egypt on a cruise ship? It's not a matter of if. It's just a matter of when.
The Associated Press (AP) reports that jihadi fighters are increasingly buying tickets on cruise ships to join extremists in battle zones in Syria and Iraq.
The AP states that jihadists are trying to bypass travel restrictions in neighboring Turkey.
According to the AP, Turkey says that it has been deporting hundreds of terrorists caught in airports and bus stations. But there are some 15,000 fighters or more from 81 countries traveling to the Middle East to fight for extreme Islamic causes.
The BBC reports that Islamic militants are using of cruise ships "more and more."
The AP quotes outgoing Interpol chief Ronald Noble as saying:
"Originally, our concern about people on cruise ships - dangerous people on cruise ships - really focused on the classic sort of rapist, burglar, or violent criminal. But as we've gathered data, we've realized that there are more and more reports that people are using cruise ships in order to get to launch pads, if you will - sort of closer to the conflict zones - of Syria and Iraq."
Terrorism is a concern for any kind of international travel. The current news does not suggest an attack by such groups on cruise ships but there is historical evidence of such attacks. We have written about plans uncovered two years ago by al Qaeda to seize cruise ships and dress passengers in orange jump suits and execute them. Three decades ago, Arab terrorists killed cruise passenger Leon Klinghoffer on the Achille Lauro cruise ship and a decade ago our U.S. Navy lost several dozen sailors who were blown up during the attack on the U.S.S. Cole by an al Qaeda group.
Several readers of Cruise Law News sent us articles today reporting that Greek police officers boarded the Costa Magica while it was in the Port in Piraeus, Greece and arrested four passengers who had possession of firearms.
Approximately 3,000 other passengers embarked from Venice on a seven-day Mediterranean cruise. Once the ship reached Greece, the Greek police boarded the Magica and arrested one woman and three men for possession of firearms (pistols).
The cruise ship was delayed departing from Piraeus because of the incident. The incident was not announced on the ship and the passengers seemed to be unaware of it.
The newspaper says that the news about the arrest of four passengers could not be found either in the Greek or in the Italian media. The newspaper interviewed crew members from Dubrovnik who explained the circumstances surrounding the arrests.
The newspaper say that the information was suppressed because it was bad for the cruise industry's business.
Those interviewed explained that there are 3,000 passengers and 6000 suitcases simultaneously screened in just a few hours and it is impossible to effectively screen so many passengers and luggage in such little time.
This is particularly worrying, the newspaper suggested, when the Islamic states repeatedly threaten harm to the Americans and their allies.
October 14, 2014 Update: Costa Crociere posted this statement on Twitter: "Segnalate alle autorità 5 persone che hanno tentato l'imbarco su Costa Magica con documenti falsi. Nessuna arma è stata trovata." Translated: "5 people reported to the authorities who have attempted boarding on Costa Magica with false documents. No weapon was found."
Photo Credit: Wikipedia / Abxbay Creative Commons 3.0
A number of news sources are reporting that the Tunisian government prohibited Israeli passengers from disembarking from a cruise ship at a stop at the Port of Tunis.
Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), a U.S.-based cruise line, told the Israeli citizens that they were not welcome by the Tunisian government and had to stay aboard the cruise ship.
The ship involved is the Norwegian Jade.
B’nai Brith Canada released a statement yesterday stating that there were approximately 20 Israelis on board the NCL ship. They did not know in advance that they could not leave the ship during the port of call.
According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), “the cruise line had a responsibility to its passengers and (to) advise them of this discriminatory policy in advance,” B’nai Brith Canada CEO Frank Dimant said in a statement. “Better still the cruise line should avoid ports that have such policies.”
"During Norwegian Jade’s port call in La Goulette, Tunisia on Sunday, March 9, 2014, a small number of guests holding Israeli passports were not allowed to go ashore because of a last minute decision made by the Tunisian Government. Port taxes for the call in Tunisia are being refunded to these guests.
We apologize for any inconvenience to our guests and appreciate their understanding. We are reviewing this decision with the appropriate officials."
NCL's statement is pathetic. NCL should not be down-playing the incident like this. The Tunisian government's action should be immediately and unequivocally denounced in the strongest language possible.
This is not about returning nominal port taxes to inconvenienced guests. It is about much deeper and important issues. No citizens of any nation should be subjected to such discrimination. The fact that an Arab nation would exhibit such contempt and hostility against Israel is particularly despicable.
Tunisia's actions sent a clear message to Israeli citizens. NCL's response should be equally clear. The only reasonable action is for NCL and the cruise industry to boycott Tunis as a port.
March 11, 2014 Update: NCL is boycotting Tunisia. Here's the NCL statement by CEO Sheehan:
“We want to send a strong message to Tunisia and ports around the world that we will not tolerate such random acts of discrimination against our guests. We are outraged by this act and the fact that we were not notified in advance of this practice. We apologize sincerely to our guests who were affected and want them to know that we have taken the appropriate action in response.”
NCL announced the boycott during the Cruise Shipping Miami (CSM2014) today. I walked by the Tunisia delegation (photo left). They must be feeling rather foolish.
Photo Credit: Top - Wikipedia / Ivan T.; bottom - Jim Walker
Newspapers in Cyprus and Israel are reporting that security forces in Cyprus thwarted a planned terror attack against Israeli tourists.
Cypriot security forces seized a powerful explosive in the port of Limassol, local paper Alithia reported. The explosive was described as capable of causing "massive damage."
The newspapers state that the perpetrators intended to target Israeli tourists visiting on cruise ships to Cyprus which is a popular tourist destination for Israelis.
Earlier this summer, Cyprus arrested a Lebanese man with links to Hezbollah who was planning attacks on Israelis in the country. Israel has said the attacks were part of a concerted effort by Iran, which employs the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah as its proxy to target Israelis around the world.
No one in the U.S. seems to have reported on this story.
Two weeks ago, I wrote an article about the targeting of cruise passengers by terrorists:
The World Cruise Industry Review publication concluded that the most likely terrorist scenario is the hijacking of a cruise ship and its passengers: "A cruise ship is boarded and commandeered, while perpetrators hold and potentially injure or kill passengers if demands are not met – as in the Achille Lauroattack."
The issue has been written about by a number of experts, including Commander Mark Gaouette who is the former director of security for Princess cruise line. He wrote a book specifically addressing the issue of cruise ships as a target for terrorists.
Twenty-seven years ago today, the world saw terrifying television images of Palestinian terrorists holding passengers aboard the Achille Lauro cruise ship hostage. The terrorists demanded the release of 50 Palestinians held in Israeli jails.
There were over 20 nationalities of passengers booked on the cruise, but the terrorists stated that Americans would be the first to be executed if their demands were not met.
Leon Klinghoffer, age 69, was from New York City and was vacationing with his wife, Marilyn, and their friends, when the Achille Lauro sailed for Port Said, Egypt. Although Mr. Klinghoffer was disabled and in a wheelchair, the terrorists picked him to be the first to die. They shot him in the chest and head, and then forced two crew members to dump him and his wheelchair over the side of the cruise ship.
That terrible crime occurred in October 1985. Now 27 years later, are cruise passengers, particularly Americans, any safer?
We have seen civil unrest across North Africa. President Mubarek is gone from Egypt and Colonel Gaddafi of Libya is dead. Good riddance to both I say, but both countries now seem more dangerous to Americans than ever. Last month we saw anti-American demonstrations on the 9/11 anniversary in both of these countries, and the murder of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya in Benghazi.
On the front page above the crease of the New York Times this morning are several articles about violence in Syria with a photo of a Syrian firing a Kalashnikov rifle. I not sure who is fighting who anymore but they all seem to have the potential to take their violence to U.S. interests.
In April I blogged about a plot where Arab terrorists envisioned hijacking a U.S. based cruise ship, forcing the passengers to wear orange Guantanamo-like jump suits and then videotaping their execution.
The World Cruise Industry Review concluded that the most likely terrorist scenario is the hijacking of a cruise ship and its passengers: "A cruise ship is boarded and commandeered, while perpetrators hold and potentially injure or kill passengers if demands are not met – as in the Achille Lauro attack."
27 years after Leon Klinghoffer's dead body was dumped into the Mediterranean Sea, the danger of terrorism against cruise ship passengers seems greater than ever before. Have cruise ships increased the number of security guards aboard their cruise ships? I doubt it. Every cabin occupied by a security guard means less revenue for the cruise lines.
The current strategy seems to be to simply skip ports in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia until things calm down. But that's a short turn fix; when the street protests are over, there remains the risk of jihadists plotting a cruise ship to target. Will the cruise security teams be ready?
If terrorists can over-power several heavily armed U.S. Marines and kill our Ambassador in Libya, does anyone really think that they are safe sailing on a Holland America Line or Princess cruise ship sailing into Tunis or Port Said?
The disturbing trend of violence against the U.S. in places like Libya and Egypt is causing the cruise lines to scramble to swap out ports of call in North Africa for ports in Italy and Malta.
HAL's Ryndam skipped a port Tunisia yesterday and instead visited Sardinia, Italy. Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas will avoid Alexandria, Egypt next week and will call on Sicily and Valletta, Malta on the next two days. Cunard's Queen Elizabeth skipped a call today in Alexandria and will visit Rhodes tomorrow.
Cruise ships have long been considered likely targets for jihadist terrorists.
There are numerous studies by security companies and U.S. governmental organizations which have studied terrorist organizations and concluded that terrorism against cruise ships is likely. Take a look at this report by the RAND organization.
The World Cruise Industry Review publication concluded that the most likely terrorist scenario is the hijacking of a cruise ship and its passengers: "A cruise ship is boarded and commandeered, while perpetrators hold and potentially injure or kill passengers if demands are not met – as in the Achille Lauro attack."
When I was a kid, my family lived in Tripoli Libya starting in 1965 until the 80's. The Libyan people back then (mostly Sunni Muslims) were peaceful. But today? Libya, Egypt, Tunisia or Morocco are the last places on earth I would sail my family to.
Cruise ships are simply not equipped to handle a terrorist attack. Cruise ship security can't even handle drunk passengers. And I would not trust the port authorities in these Arab countries to provide adequate protection against Islamic fanatics strapped with explosives who would love to blow up a cruise ship with Americans aboard.
Update: Join the discussion on our facebook page - most viewers don't have a high regard for the ability of cruise ship security guards to protect your family from al-Qaeda.
There is a disturbing story today in CNN entitled "Documents Reveal al Qaeda's Plans to Seize Cruise Ships . . ." The CNN article explains that an al Qaeda operative was caught with encoded digital data which, once deciphered, revealed some of the terror group's "most audacious plots and a road map for future operations."
The terrorist group had far reaching plans to conduct operations in Europe and to kill cruise ship passengers as part of its reign of terror.
The CNN article was based on the work of investigative journalist Yassin Musharbash, a reporter with the German newspaper Die Zeit, who was the first to report on the documents. The CNN articles states:
"One plan: to seize passenger ships. According to Musharbash, the writer "says that we could hijack a passenger ship and use it to pressurize the public."
Musharbash takes that to mean that the terrorists "would then start executing passengers on those ships and demand the release of particular prisoners."
The plan would include dressing passengers in orange jump suits, as if they were al Qaeda prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, and then videotaping their execution."
Are cruise ships prepared to deal with a well organized attack by a jihadist terrorist organization?
May 1, 2012 Update: Former Director of Security at Princess Cruises, Commander Mark Gaouette, left a comment below, pointing out that Islamic extremists have taken steps to target cruise ships over the past decade. Commander Gaouette has also worked for Homeland Security and is an expert on the subject of cruise ship safety and the threat of international terrorism.
Gaouette authored a best selling book "Cruising for Trouble: Cruise Ships as Soft Targets for Pirates, Terrorists, and Common Criminals" which explains that cruise lines are not taking adequate steps to protect passengers from harm. One reviewer stated: "The chapters about terrorism were so interesting it was hard to put down and should raise some serious red flags with the cruise industry. I think this book should represent a real sea-change of how security and safety on these vessels is regulated by the governments of the world, marketed and perceived to you and me the consumer, and how the cruise line industry conducts their business in general."
The South Florida Business Journal covered the story today, stating: "The Coast Guard, cruise ship and facility operators, and law enforcement officials generally believe waterside attacks are a concern for cruise ships," a 2010 General Accounting Office report said. "Agency officials and terrorism researchers also identified terrorists boarding a cruise ship as a concern."
Here is the CNN video:
Do you believe that the cruise industry has done enough to protect passengers from terrorism, or are cruise vacationers sitting ducks? Please leave a comment below.
CBS Channel 4 reported today that a check of a suspicious package at the Port of Miami resulted in the evacuation of a cruise ship terminal. The evacuation was ordered after a police dog alerted to the package.
Miami police ordered the evacuation of Terminal C, which was in use Friday by NCL's Norwegian Sky cruise ship. CBS reported that the evacuation covered only cruise and port employees working in the terminal because cruise passengers arriving Friday had yet to be allowed inside to board Friday’s cruise.
The Miami-Dade bomb squad and HazMat crews were was called to check the package. A port official eventually said the package turned was harmless.
The AP is reporting that a twenty-three year man, who had apparently been placed on a "no-fly" list, traveled from Oregon to New York by train and then boarded a cruise ship in order to sail to England.
The article identifies Michael Migliore as a "Muslim convert" who had tried unsuccessfully for months to fly to Italy, where he planned to live with his mother.
According to the AP, Migliore says he is on the no-fly list because "he refused to cooperate with FBI agents who wanted to question him after an acquaintance was charged in a plot to bomb a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland."
After being barred from flying, Mr. Migliore decided to travel across the U.S. by train and then sail on a cruise ship to Europe. Once he arrived in England the British police arrested him.
Now this strikes me as rather strange. I don't know Mr. Migliore. I have no idea whether he is a potential terrorist threat or a nice guy who was arbitrarily labeled a threat because he converted to Islam. I tend to sympathize with U.S. citizens having their liberties taken away without notice or due process.
But if the U.S. really placed him on a "no-fly" list because of a good faith belief that he is prone to blow up a airplane, why didn't it place him on a "no-cruise" list? This started me thinking - is there such a thing as a "no-cruise" list? If not, why not? If you are inclined to take down an aircraft, it seems like a cruise ship is an equally attractive target.
Does the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), Homeland Security, the FBI and Customs and Border people share information of potential dangers in the air and on the sea? If so, why is someone who is such a danger to be placed on a "no-fly" list permitted to board a cruise ship for a transatlantic cruise?
This weekend our television has alternated between college football games and documentaries about the horror of 9/11.
Where were you on 9/11? Many of the special programs seem to ask.
I was in my office talking to Dad who was with my Mom visiting my sister in Park City, Utah. I was with him on the telephone when the first tower began to fall. I remember him yelling "holy shit son the tower is falling!" We then both hung up to watch the spectacle.
There have been some insightful articles about how 9/11 disrupted our lives and changed our perspective of the world around us. The Connecticut Post published an interesting article "A September Cruise Leads Passenger Home to a Changed City" which is the account of a real estate agent in Connecticut who goes with her husband on a cruise from Southampton when the plane struck the twin towers.
The twin towers gone. How is that possible?
The towers were a landmark that seemed to always be in the background of every cruise ship photographed in New York harbor. I found such a photo and thought it might be appropriate to add it to this article. But while uploading it, I realized that it shows the H.M.S Britanis which sank off of the coast of South Africa in October 2000.
9/11 to me brought home the fact that all of us are here on planet earth for a limited period of time. Great buildings can fall before our eyes. Magnificent ships can sink out of sight as if they never existed. Loved ones can leave us.
But the images of our experiences and the voices of our loved ones remain vivid and distinct today.
The Tribune newspaper in the Bahamas is reporting that a pleasure cruise on board the Discovery cruise ship turned into terror and aggravation for hundreds of passengers when a bomb threat stopped the ship at night en route to Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale. The incident began when Miami Dade Police Department received a 911 call around 9 PM that a man was aboard the ship with a gun and a bomb.
The Discovery cruise ship ship left Grand Bahama with approximately 900 passengers around 5 PM. The five-hour cruise back to Port Everglades usually arrives around 10.30 PM.
US Coast Guard and bomb squad technicians and bomb dogs boarded the cruise ship approximately 18 miles off the coast of Florida. The search was unproductive and the cruise ship returned to port around 4:00 AM. Law enforcement officers from Customs and Border Protection, the FBI, and the Broward County Sheriff Office Bomb Squad personnel and bomb detection dogs boarded the cruise ship.
The newspaper indicates that passengers were restricted to their cabins and in certain areas of the ship while the search was conducted. The newspaper also quotes a passenger stating that "everyone was very scared and some persons were even upset because of the long delay and late arrival into Fort Lauderdale."
One of the proposals recommended by the International Cruise Victims (ICV) organization is having "sea marshals" on cruise ships in order to protect passengers and respond to shipboard crimes.
Since 9-11 the Federal government has placed "air marshals" on airplanes. The ICV has attempted to ensure that cruise ships have the same level of security by supporting legislation in California requiring "sea marshals" on all cruise ships entering and departing cruise ports in that state.
Unfortunately, the cruise industry fought against an independent police force on cruise ships. The typical argument is that state law enforcement have no jurisdiction over foreign flag cruise ships on international waters. However, there is no question that states like California have jurisdiction to place sea marshals on cruise ships once the ships reach state waters to act as a police presence and to monitor environmental activities. Alaska has a very effective sea marshal program designed to monitor cruise ship waste water dumping.
The port of Los Angeles already has a sea marshal program. By all accounts it is successful and serves the valuable purpose of protecting passengers. As explained in an article today "Marshals Defend Port of L.A." in the Contra Costa Times, the port of Los Angeles has six sea marshals, as well as an additional eight to 10 port police officers who are trained to join the team. The L.A. sea marshal program is seperate from the sea marshal program operated by the U.S. Coast Guard which board vessels up to 12 miles offshore.
The sea marshal program in L.A. is geared toward addressing vulnerabilities as cruise ships and cargo vessel head into and out of the harbor. Sea marshals board cruise ships 3 miles from port. They are armed. They make sure that no one forces their way into the bridge to hijack the ship and uses it as a floating bomb or a battering ram, just as al-Qaida terrorists forced their way into the cockpits of jetliners on 9-11.
Sea marshals also inspect various areas of the cruise ship, look for explosives, drugs, suspicious activities, and coordinate underwater inspections by port police divers once the cruise ships reach port. They remain on the bridge, where they keep watch as the cruise ships sail out of the Port of Los Angeles. They return to port once the vessels reach 3 miles offshore.
The newspaper interviewed John Holmes, the deputy executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, who said: "Our most precious cargo at the port are our cruise passengers . . . Anytime you get on a ship in Los Angeles and these guys come on board, I think it really gives people a sense of security."
It remains less than clear whether the sea marshals in Los Angeles have responsibility to handle reports of crime which occur at sea as the cruise ships sail back to California. Undoubtedly, the local sea marshals can liason with the Los Angeles Port Police and the FBI.
Los Angeles has proven that a sea marshal program on a state level can work. More ports and states need to follow Los Angeles's lead.
This month is the 25th year anniversary of the death of cruise ship passenger Leon Klinghoffer, an American Jew, who was killed by Palestinian terrorists who hijacked the cruise ship he was sailing on with his wife in the Mediterranean Sea in 1985.
Mr. Klinghoffer, age 69, was from New York City and was vacationing with his wife, Marilyn, and their friends when four heavily armed terrorists hijacked the Achille Lauro cruise ship, after it left Port Said, Egypt. Although Mr. Klinghoffer was disabled and in a wheelchair, the terrorists shot him in the chest and head, and then forced two crew members to dump him and the wheelchair he was confined to over the side of the cruise ship.
The terrorists demanded the captain sail the cruise ship to Syria and Israel release 50 Palestinian prisoners. After a two-day drama, the hijackers surrendered in exchange for a pledge of safe passage out of Egypt to Tunisia. But when an Egyptian jet tried to fly the hijackers away from justice, U.S. Navy F-14 fighters intercepted the jet and forced it to land in Sicily. The terrorists were taken into custody by Italian authorities. The four terrorists were convicted and sentenced to jail, but a "mediator," Abu Abbas, from the Palestinian Liberation Army (PLO) who planned the hijacking, was permitted to leave Italy to the outrage of Americans. (The U.S. Army subsequently captured Abbas during the 2003 invasion of Iraq).
The tragic incident is known for the brutal nature of the Palestinian terrorists against Mr. Klinghoffer, the involvement of the PLO, and the bold action of President Reagan in foiling the terrorists' escape.
But the the incident is also well known in legal circles for demonstrating the extraordinary steps which cruise lines take to limit their liability.
Mrs. Klinghoffer and the estate of Leon Klinghoffer (daughters Lisa and Ilsa were the administrators) filed suit in the Southern District of New York against the owner / operator / charterer of the Achille Lauro, travel agencies, various other defendants and, eventually, the PLO. Other passengers who were aboard the Achille Lauro during the hijacking also filed suit.
The families sued the cruise line defendants for failing to have adequate security to protect the passengers from the terrorist attack.
The cruise ship was operated by the Lauro Line and marketed by the Chandris Line whose risk management department was based in New York City. (The claims supervisor subsequently went to work for Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises).
Rather than trying to reach a settlement with the grieving family, the cruise line defendants threw up every obstacle imaginable to prevent the Klinghoffer family from obtaining compensation. The cruise line denied responsibility and claimed that the attack was "unforseeable." They filed motions to dismiss claiming that they did not engage in business in the U.S. They argued that the forum selection clause (which we have discussed in other articles) in the passenger ticket limited their liability to only $10,000 and, in any event, any lawsuit had to be brought in Naples, Italy. The cruise line defendant then filed claims against the PLO, arguing that if anyone should be responsible for Mr. Klinghoffer's death it was the PLO for planning the hijacking of the cruise ship.
The lawsuits lasted over 10 years, at great emotional and financial expense of the Klinghoffer family.
Finally, the cases were resolved shortly before trial when the PLO made a confidential financial settlement which resulted in the creation of a non-profit organization, the Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer Memorial Foundation.
As a result of the ordeal, our U.S. Congress enacted legislation which provides a basis to sue terrorist organizations when they are involved in the deaths of U.S. citizens. Cruise lines, however, remain free to use forum selection clauses and contractual limitations of liability to make it difficult for Americans to obtain compensation.
The lasting maritime law implications of Mr. Klinghoffer's death is that no cruise line can realistically claim that the hijacking of a cruise ship by a terrorist organization is "unforeseeable" - given the vivid memories of that terrible day twenty five years ago on the Achille Lauro.
Yesterday, a criminal barrister in London @CrimeCounsel asked me on Twitter my opinion of the Israeli action against the pro Palestinian flotilla.
I responded immediately that it was in violation of international law and morally indefensible.
For those cruise fans who are not current on international news, two days ago Israeli commandos boarded a cruise ship in international waters. The ship is the M/V Mavi Marmara passenger ship, formerly owned and operated by a Turkish ferry company and now owned by a Turkish Islamist charity, the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief. The MaviMarmara, with around 700 Palestinian supporters, was sailing with food, toys and relief supplies for Palestinians in Gaza. Israel boarded the ship to enforce an embargo of Gaza.
Passengers on the cruise ship, called "activists" in many press accounts, attacked the commandos after they rappelled from a helicopter. Watch the video below. When the violence ended, Israeli forces had killed 9 passengers and injured 60 others. The passengers injured 10 Israeli soldiers, 2 critically.
My opinion remains that this was a clear violation of international maritime law. The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea entitles vessels "free passage" on the high seas. It was also a morally indefensible attack on citizens in international waters. I received a lot of flak for my opinions. There are few people in the U.S. based cruise industry or courthouses in Miami who have much sympathy for the Palestinian cause, particularly after 9-11. The U.S. is preoccupied with fighting the war on terror and, in the process, every Arab relief agency is labeled as a tool for Al-Qaeda, Hamas, or Hezbollah.
But putting politics aside, this is a straight forward issue. International law prohibits the boarding of vessels in international waters. Attacking a relief ship in this manner is as illegal as engaging in piracy off of the coast of Somalia.
Some argue that Israel has the right to enforce the embargo and make certain that humanitarian shipments into Gaza do not include weapons. This may sound good, but it presupposes that the embargo is legal. The siege of Gaza is wrong and severely punishes Palestinians by depriving them of food, medical supplies and basic services. The U.N. told Israel to end the embargo in the first place.
International law also requires that only "proportional" force may be used in the face of violent resistance. Yes, the commandos were met with violence when they illegally boarded the vessel on the high seas. You can see this clearly in the video. But shooting protesters in the head with automatic weapons is not "proportional" or morally defensible, particularly when the commandos had no right to board the ship in the first place.
June 2nd Update:
There remains considerable debate regarding the legality of Israel's conduct, much of it turning on the issue whether the embargo itself is legal. 99% of the countries in the U.N. believe that its illegal (count me in on that issue) The U.S. and Israel disagree. Here are some articles to consider:
The local news media is reporting that Royal Caribbean recently received a bomb threat aboard the Liberty of the Seas cruise ship.
According to a news release by the U.S. Coast Guard, Royal Caribbean's reservation center in Wichita, Kansas received a call reporting a bomb aboard the cruise ship around 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 15th. Crew members searched the ship but did not find anything. The Liberty of the Seas proceeded on with the cruise and arrived back in Miami around 6:00 a.m. the next morning. FBI, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, and Customs and Border Protection agents then boarded the cruise ship to look for explosives, but they did not find anything.
Fortunately, these bomb threats turned out to be hoaxes. But what if they were real?
In this most recent bomb threat, the FBI and other federal agencies did not board the cruise ship until eleven hours later.
Are cruise lines equipped to handle a real terrorist threat on the high seas? Most cruise lines have as few as 2 or 3 security guards on duty at night and some lines do not monitor their surveillance cameras (except in the casinos). Is this adequate security for 3,000 to 4,000 passengers and crew?
Our experience suggests that the few security personnel on cruise ships have a difficult enough time deterring or responding to bar fights between drunken passengers. A real terrorist threat on the high seas will pose a real problem to the cruise industry.
Maritime & admiralty lawyer & attorney James M. Walker of Walker & O'Neill Law Firm, offering services related to injuries, sexual assaults, fires, negligence, rapes & disappearances on cruise ships, pirate & terrorist attacks, missing passengers, shore excursions, wrongful death and the Jones Act, serving cruise passengers, crew members, cabin attendants, utility workers, waiters, bar tenders, ship doctors and cleaners on cruise ships worldwide.
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